Tag Archives: trees

How do you write about Climate Change?

IMG_4717.jpg

The only way I can begin to think about the question of how to write about Climate Change is to do it – start writing and see if I can spin a thread for myself, and maybe others, to follow.  This will be the first in what I hope will be a series of posts to track my spinning.

In September I submitted my Creative Practice-based PhD – Women on the Edge of Landscape – investigating place and ecology, poetry and biography.  I’ve written a collection of poems called ‘The Knucklebone Floor’, set at Allen Banks in Northumberland, imagining the 19th century widow who intervened in the landscape there – Susan Davidson (1796-1877) – as well as other women who have lived, worked and walked there before and since.  I tried to find a voice for them all, acknowledging points of difference while testing the possibility of commonality, a collective vision of an authentic good, dwelling alongside the constantly changing beyond-human.

I called my critical reflective essay ‘Flower Album’ because I wanted it to be a place where I could assemble my ideas, process and reading, using another Victorian woman, Margaret Rebecca Dickinson’s (1821-1918) beautiful watercolours of native wild flowers as touchstones.  These two very different northern women held a love of, and intimacy with, the natural world in common.

IMG_3336.jpg

After over three years of looking at the macro-perspective of this particular landscape and the micro-view of the plantlife that grows there – all at a time of increasing urgency about Global Warming and Mass Extinction – I felt my own sense of intimacy with the land at Allen Banks deepen and grow.  I became one of its creatures as much as the dormice, dippers and dragonflies who’ve made their homes in the woods and along the river.  My essay’s ‘conclusion’ culminated in a call for tenderness, a conscious love for the earth that stands in the way of any harm being done to it, just as you would protect your own (or anyone else’s) children.  Not on my watch.

IMG_2588.jpg

If ‘Climate Change’ is portrayed as our enemy, if the phrase ‘Climate Emergency’ is intended to summon up associations of wartime solidarity, I am concerned that the dynamic evoked, the story conveyed, is an unhelpful one, leaning more into conflict than healing.  Such attitudes tend to demonise Climate Change as just another ‘other’, to be hated and eradicated.  When will we learn there is no such place as ‘away’?

If we know ourselves to be truly part of nature, inextricable from it, inside and out, isn’t it more fruitful to examine the part of ourselves that needs to affirm the polarity of Self and Other?  What if we tried to come to terms with that part of ourselves that has contributed to Climate Change, allowed it to happen without doing anything to prevent it or radically alter the political structures that perpetuate our current crisis?  Surely Climate Change is less the cause of our current crisis than the effect of what Naomi Klein calls ‘the deep stories about the right of certain people to dominate land and the people living closest to it, stories that underpin western culture’.  I admire the way she has ‘investigated the kinds of responses that might succeed in toppling those narratives, ideologies and economic interests, responses that weave seemingly disparate crises (economic, social, ecological and democratic) into a common story of civilisational transformation.’

It’s important to be pragmatic and vote for the party you can trust to take action to protect the environment, but in the longer term, the system itself needs to change to ensure greater equity and justice – not just in this country but on a global level.  How to achieve that is another question we will be struggling with in the years ahead.

Tenderness is not really a word that comes to mind listening to the politicians making the case for their party’s extravagant promises.  But reading Mary Robinson’s Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future is maybe the nearest I’ve got to it.  Telling stories of women around the world directly affected by Climate Change, she makes politics personal.  She remembers one woman in drought-stricken Honduras saying to her: ‘We have no water.  How do you live without water?’  Worrying about flying and driving and our various western consumer dilemmas, we really have no idea.  These women trying to look after their children in the face of unimaginable deprivation and disruption are, as Robinson says, ‘the least responsible for the pollution warming our planet, yet are the most affected.  They are often overlooked in the abstract, jargon-filled policy discussions about how to address the problem […] the fight against climate change is fundamentally about human rights and securing justice for those suffering from its impact – vulnerable countries and communities that are the least culpable for the problem.’

On the day that Mary Robinson became the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in 1997, Seamus Heaney wrote to her saying: ‘Take hold of it boldly and duly.’  That is what she is doing on the subject of climate and its impact on human rights.  What would it look like if contemporary writers took hold of our current task ‘boldly and duly’?  How would Seamus Heaney write about Climate Change?  In what form would he express his grief for everything we have already lost?  What are the words we might start hearing in unexpected places that could help us adapt and thrive?

Isn’t it the writer’s job to write so that people want to read or listen, so that what they’ve read or heard stays with them, strengthening their relationship with themselves, the world and each other?  How do you write about Climate Change so that people want to keep on reading, not flick past in search of something more entertaining or distracting?  For me, Voice usually matters more than Story – a form of words shared in passing that gives a sense of the writer’s pulse, the thrum of their beating heart, the intimacy with their conspirators I saw in the work of Susan Davidson and Margaret Rebecca Dickinson and have tried to translate into my own words.

IMG_2840.jpg

Still inclined to spend some time in the 19th century, I’m currently listening to Samuel West’s reading of Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders and although the story is beguiling, fateful and compelling, it’s the atmosphere I love best, the sense of place, particularly as it’s evoked by Hardy’s own intimacy with those trees growing in Little Hintock, characterised almost as vividly as Giles Winterborne, Grace Melbury and Marty Short.  If we knew trees in their natural habitat as well as this, perhaps we’d care for them better.

            Although the time of bare boughs had now set in, there were sheltered hollows amid      the Hintock plantations and copses in which a more tardy leave-taking than on windy          summits was the rule with the foliage. This caused here and there an apparent mixture of the seasons; so that in some of the dells that they passed by holly-berries in full red were found growing beside oak and hazel whose leaves were as yet not far removed from green, and brambles whose verdure was rich and deep as in the month of August. To Grace these well-known peculiarities were as an old painting restored.

            Now could be beheld that change from the handsome to the curious which the     features of a wood undergo at the ingress of the winter months. Angles were taking the place of curves, and reticulations of surfaces – a change constituting a sudden lapse from the ornate to the primitive on Nature’s canvas…

We can only write from a sense of who we are, the wild landscape of our hearts and minds.  The writing process depends upon our own unruly growth, the ways we choose to cultivate and nourish our imaginations and fill our days.  Seamus Heaney said that too – that it’s what we do when we’re not writing that matters.  Spending time with trees, observing their changes through the seasons, planting and protecting them – this too is the writer’s task and will send roots down into the thirsty soil of our collective imagination.

IMG_5294.jpg

Naomi Klein has been encouraging people to read Richard Powers’s The Overstory.  I’m late to the party but it’s next on my reading list.  She says:

            It’s been incredibly important to me and I’m happy that so many people have  written to me since. What Powers is writing about trees: that trees live in communities and are in communication, and plan and react together, and we’ve been completely wrong in the way we conceptualise them. It’s the same conversation we’re having about whether we are going to solve this as individuals or whether we are going to save the collective organism. It’s also rare, in good fiction, to valorise activism, to treat it with real respect, failures and all, to acknowledge the heroism of the people who put their bodies on the line. I thought Powers did that in a really extraordinary way.

This weekend the Woodland Trust’s Big Climate Fightback aims to encourage a million people in the UK to pledge to plant a native tree.  They have a target to plant a tree for every person in the UK by 2025.  We have a small oak seedling from a friend’s garden we’ll be adding to the recent replanting of the woodland behind our house. While you’re considering how a writer might write about Climate Change, what you need to read about it or who you’re going to vote for, you can pledge to plant a tree or support the Woodland Trust here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Autumn Colour

IMG_4885.jpg

 

Caramel

 

It takes the louche cool

of late summer on the heel

of a long-drawn-out

drought to bring out the best

in a leaf

before it sets free its ghost.

 

When desire isn’t all

that matters, then fall

is the deciduous rise

to the surface

of carotene, anthocyanin

or xanthophyll,

 

silenced till now by the clamour

of chlorophyll.  And even this

sweetness must be lost –

a red lament of abandon,

defiance,

indeed, utterly natural.

 

 

 

From Reading the Flowers (Arc, 2016)

 

Tagged , , , , , ,

In the House of the Wind

IMG_0735

The House the Wind Built

 

This is where we live now

the chimney redbrick roaring

a hollow trunk open to the flow

of the wind a bellowing fall

of wind a bellyful all day long

trying to breathe it in / break free

 

Since the trees were felled

I’ve stayed close to the floor

prone trying not to feel flayed

flaying around so full of flay

and fall all my freckled skins shed

succumbed to floor or flaw

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Protected: technica botanica

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Tagged , , , , , , ,

When the Clocks Go Forward…

IMG_0321

…The Whole Place Goes Up

 

Today with Spring here finally we ought to be living

outdoors with our friends.

Let’s go to those strangers in the field

and dance around them like bees from flower to flower,

Building in the beehive air

our true hexagonal homes.

IMG_0320

Someone comes in from the outside saying,

‘Don’t play music just for yourselves.’

Now we’re tearing up the house like a drum,

collapsing walls with our pounding.

We hear a voice from the sky calling our lovers

and the odd lost people. We scatter lives.

We break what holds us, each one a blacksmith

heating iron and walking to the anvil.

We blow on the inner fire.

With each striking we change.

IMG_0316

The whole place goes up, all stability gone to smoke.

Sometimes high, sometimes low, we begin anywhere,

we have no method.

We’re the bat swung by powerful arms.

Balls keep rolling from us, thousands of them underfoot.

 

Now we’re still. Silence also is wisdom, a flame

hiding in cotton wool.

 

Rumi

 

 

Tagged , , , , ,

In Two Minds

Another mind is moving in me, a second nature that is as inseparable from me as my shadow, except that in relation to it I am the shadow and it the light. The dilemma I find myself in (if I find myself at all) is that this other is hidden from me in the same way that seeing is hidden from things that are seen. The work of meditative thinking is a collaboration between these two natures—the seer that remembers and the seen that always forgets. As in rowing, if you pull more on one oar than the other, you go round in circles, and, as in rowing, all I can see is what I have passed as I press forward toward a point that is hidden behind me.

Carl Lehmann-Haupt

 

The Double

I am tired, but she is not tired.

I am wordless;

she, who has never spoken a word of her own,

is full of thoughts as precise and impassioned

as the yellow and black exchanges of a wasp’s striped body.

 

For a long time I thought her imposter.

Then realized:

her jokes, even her puns, are only too subtle for me to follow.

 

And so we go on, mostly ignoring each other,

though what I cook, she eats with seeming gusto,

and letters intended for her alone I open with curious ease,

as if I, not she, were the long-accomplished thief.

 

Jane Hirshfield

Tagged , , , , ,

Quietness

imageInside this new love, die.

Your way begins on the other side.

Become the sky.

Take an axe to the prison wall.

Escape.

Walk out like someone suddenly born into colour.

Do it now.

You’re covered with thick cloud.

Slide out the side.  Die,

and be quiet.  Quietness is the surest sign

that you’ve died.

Your old life was a frantic running

from silence.

The speechless full moon

comes out now.

 

 

Rumi

image

Monks’ Valley, Cappadocia

Tagged , , ,

The Edge of Summer

photo

The Edge of Summer

Housed in the heart

of the sycamore

we’re recycling its green

*

loosening ties

to the ground below

*

a power tool

not a woodpecker

drills unseen

*

axis and rotation

halfway to full

*

all that buried life

bramble and dock

swelling spores

*

but how to write good verses

without a pot of oolong?

*

in the still air

flycatchers

dance their frenetic jizz

*

through the canopy

greying clouds and a chill

*

when this ash grows

past that sycamore

would you speak of win and lose?

*

fistfuls of Burnlaw berries

that never reach the bowl

*

our perimeter

protected with flames

and burnt sandalwood

*

oh to be a jaguar

slumbering in these boughs!

*

bark as skin

and like all skin

its own fragrance

*

on a cooler evening

easier to dream of woodsmoke

*

worry – a temptress

worry – a truthteller

impossible to say in the dark

*

caught in the lake

the bounce of borrowed light

*

to grow roots

or go and reinvent yourself –

the weight of choice

*

the spread of heather – August

woven purple into the hills

*

while there’s still light

we move inside

for warmth

*

the edge of summer

in reddening rowan.

 

Treehouse Renga

at Burnlaw,

22nd August 2015.

 

photo 2 

 Participants:

Ajahn Abhinando

John Bower

Holly Clay

Linda France

Geoff Jackson

Linda Kent

Anne Marron

Tim Rubidge

photo 3

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

One Week in May

Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are.

Alfred Austin

– for Karen and Joe – 

 photo

am I dreaming

this garden

or is it dreaming me?

 photo

the sudden marvel

of a cactus bloom

white peacock tail

 photo

starburst and curl

empty-hearted

a clematis unclenching

 photo

modelled in wax

souvenir

from Mars

 photo

intoxicating

the fin de siècle scent

of lilac

 photo

behind glass

Nerys’s peonies always

on the point of opening

 photo

what to love most

leaves

or their shadows?

 photo

a bowl of stones

blue lavender

raven skull and wingbone

 photo

a spiral

of green thoughts

going nowhere

 photo

something French

about their flicked tips

just so, chic

 photo

the ramparts

say what they mean

and mean what they say

 photo

a second spiral

going nowhere

slowly

 photo

a whole afternoon

reading the trees

binding their torn pages

 photo

to a house of flowers

I bring flowers –

two kinds of lilies

 photo

after rain

the smell of green

rinsed awake

 

 

 

Holly Hill

Northumberland

1 – 10 May 2015

Tagged , , , , , , , ,